Updated: 01-Feb-2002 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 39- No. 1
February 1991
p. 15 - 20

The negotiations on Confidence- and
Security-Building Measures
The Vienna agreement and beyond

Bruce George, MP
United Kingdom

Long before last November's Charter of Paris for a New Europe established the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Committee of Senior Officials, and the Conflict Prevention Centre (CPC), security deliberations among all CSCE participating states had been institutionalized in the negotiations on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs). The 1975 Helsinki Final Act had set out the first five such measures which, after unsuccessful efforts during the Belgrade (1977-78) and Madrid (1980-83) CSCE Follow-up Meetings, were placed on a qualitatively new footing in the 1986 Stockholm Document including the unprecedented right to conduct on-site inspection of military activity in the field. (1)

Initially conceived in the East-West adversarial context, CSBMs were intended to inhibit options for surprise attack, reduce the risk of .misunderstanding or miscalculation, and deter the threat or use of military force for purposes of intimidation. As the Cold War faded, however, CSBMs acquired fresh roles in the new Europe: to demonstrate mutual willingness to build confidence and security, not simply provide evidence of the absence of feared threats and, in the words of the Deputy Head of the Hungarian CSBM delegation to the 1989-90 Vienna CSBM negotiations, Dr. Istvan Kormendy, to contribute, "to redefining the security relationships among East European states and assuring stability during transition in the region."

On 17 November 1990, after seven rounds of negotiation, a third CSBM agreement incorporating both these traditional and novel CSBM missions was adopted in Vienna and subsequently endorsed by the Paris Summit. Although overshadowed by the signature at the Summit of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, the 52-page Vienna CSBM Document, which came into force on 1 January 1991, constitutes an essential complement to the CFE treaty's structural limits by increasing the transparency of military organization and activity and deepening contacts and communications from the Atlantic to the Urals. The CSBM agreement provides yet another testament to NATO' s pioneering role in an era of change by largely comprising the Alliance proposals that emerged from the White Team of the High Level Task Force on Conventional Arms Control and the CSBM Working Groups of the Political and Military Committees on 9 March 1989 and 23 February and 18 May 1990 respectively.

In the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, signed on 21 November 1990, (2) the Heads of State or Government, affirming the 6 July 1990 NATO London Declaration, stated that, "We undertake to continue the CSBM negotiations under the same mandate, and to seek to conclude them no later than the Follow-up Meeting of the CSCE to be held in Helsinki in 1992", just as they looked forward to the conclusion of a second CFE treaty by that date. The 34 leaders also decided to merge the CFE and CSBM negotiations by 1992 in "new negotiations on disarmament and confidence and security building open to all participating states", as France had proposed in May 1978. Hence, as Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands put it in Paris, "With the end of the Cold War, these negotiations - at which the whole of Europe is represented - can only gain in importance."

The Vienna Document

The first section, entitled Annual Exchange of Military Information, contains three new measures that substantially parallel the corresponding NATO proposals:

  1. an annual information exchange on military forces down to brigade/regiment level for ground and amphibious forces and to wing/air regiment for air forces and naval aviation permanently based on land - including normal peacetime locations, data that the Soviet Union had refused to provide during the Stockholm negotiations;

  2. an annual information exchange on the deployment of major weapon and equipment systems; and

  3. information on military budgets on the basis of the categories set out in the United Nations, Instrument for Standardized International Reporting Expenditures, which requires resource cost disclosures on operating costs, operations and maintenance, procurement and construction, and research and development for 14 items ranging from strategic to paramilitary forces.

What NATO was unable to achieve was agreement on two important proposals: notification of the transfer of a formation or combat unit from one normal peacetime location to another inside the zone of application, and notification of the call-up of reservists involving at least 40,000 troops. These measures can be expected to be considered again this year in accordance with the CSBM mandate's requirement for negotiations on militarily significant measures, and because of greater attention to force generation capacity in future following the implementation of the CFE treaty.

The second section, entitled Risk Reduction, contains two new measures. The first concerns the "mechanism for consultation and cooperation as regards unusual military activities". This measure, of US and Dutch origin, provides that participating states will, "consult and cooperate with each other about any unusual and unscheduled activities of their military forces outside their normal peacetime locations which are militarily significant, within the zone of application for CSBMs and about which a participating state expresses its security concern." The state expressing concern may request an explanation or a meeting with the responding state, and even request a meeting of all CSCE participating states (note that the CSCE consensus rule does not apply here). The Conflict Prevention Centre will serve as the forum for the all-34 nation meeting, and can serve as the venue for the bilateral meeting.

Of interest is the very flexible description given of "unusual" activity and the wide discretion vested in the requesting state - no thresholds are established, no attempt made to define "military forces," "militarily significant" activities, or "security concern." Particularly in the light of the January 1991 events in Lithuania, this measure could help give effect and expression to the principles of the Charter of Paris; as the Head of the German CSBM delegation, Ambassador Giinter Joetze, stated on 1 June 1990: "Military action against a country's own civilian population certainly falls within the category of measures that can arouse concern and misunderstandings in other states."(3)
The other measure in this section requires the reporting and clarification of "hazardous incidents of a military nature within the zone of application for CSBMs in order to prevent possible misunderstandings and mitigate the effects on another participating state." Communications will be transmitted "preferably through the CSBM communications network", and incidents may be discussed at the Conflict Prevention Centre.

The third section, Contacts, contains two measures. The first of these, Visits to Air Bases, involves visits to normal peacetime air bases "in order to provide the visitors with the opportunity to view activity at the air bases, including preparations to carry out the functions of the air base and to gain an impression of the approximate number of air sorties and type of missions being flown" for a minimum of 24 hours. No participating state will be obliged to arrange more than one such visit in any five-year period. It is interesting to note that this is the first air CSBM not linked to a land activity, and its implementation may suggest additional CSBMs in the future.
The second measure in this section, Military Contacts, requires the participating states to promote and facilitate military-to-military contacts between senior and military defence representatives on down to military sporting and cultural events - encouraging existing practices and building on the 1975 Helsinki Final Act measure to promote exchanges among military personnel.

The fourth section, Prior Notification of Certain Military Activities, enhances the Stockholm notification measure by requiring information exchange on the designation, subordination, number and type of formations and units down to and including brigade/regiment or equivalent level (the Stockholm provision required only number and type of divisions).

The fifth section, Observation of Certain Military Activities, contains more changes to the Stockholm Document. First, the host state will adequately inform its official personnel and troops about the presence, status, and functions of observers so as to avoid risks to their safety. Second, the map provided to observers will indicate the activity area and initial tactical situation, and its scale cannot exceed 1 to 250,000 - half the Stockholm ratio. Third, whereas under the Stockholm regime, observers were only permitted personal binoculars, they will now also be permitted to use personal maps, photo and video cameras, dictaphones, and hand-held passive night vision devices. Fourth, an aerial survey of the observation area is encouraged. Fifth, at the close of the observations, time will be allowed for a discussion of impressions with host state officials and military representatives of other states engaged in the activity, if applicable. Finally, media representatives should be invited from all participating states and treated equally.

A flaw in the Vienna CSBM observation regime, however, concerns the failure to close the gap between the Stockholm notification and observation thresholds which, for exercises and concentrations, stay at 13,000 and 17,000 troops, respectively. In view of the ever dwindling level of troops participating in exercises throughout Europe - only four Soviet activities were notified for 1991 compared to 16 in 1988 - it may well prove that unless the observation and notification thresholds are brought down to the same levels, as NATO had proposed, these Vienna improvements will rarely be put to use. If, in fact, lack of time to negotiate this improvement was the sole reason for retention of the gap, then it should be easily corrected during 1991. NATO was also unable to have the observation extended until 24 hours after troop levels fall below the observation threshold, which presumably would have assisted in determining that the exercise was actually being run down.

The sixth section, Annual Calendars, essentially tidies up some points that were unclear in the Stockholm Document by requiring, inter alia, notification one year in advance of the fact that no military activity subject to prior notification is planned, and immediate notification of a cancelled activity or changes to the activity threshold which would bring it below the notification level.

The seventh section, Constraining Provisions, lowers the threshold for activities requiring notification two years in advance from 75,000 to 40,000 troops. This section retains the Stockholm escape clause which allows a notifiable military activity to be carried out without inclusion in the annual calendar, but it could, of course, always be subject to inspection, discussion in the context of the unusual military activities measure, and review in the annual implementation meeting as well as in the Conflict Prevention Centre.

The eighth section, Compliance and Verification, covers inspection and a new measure, evaluation. Regarding inspection, considered so innovative when adopted in 1986, Hungary, also on behalf of Poland and Czechoslovakia, registered an interpretative statement to the effect that the three countries may inspect and evaluate any participating state. This contrasts with a declaration in 1986 by the then Hungarian People's Republic, on behalf of "the delegations of Socialist states," that parties to the treaty of the same alliance would not carry out inspections on each other's territory.

The new measure, evaluation, requires each state to accept a quota of one evaluation visit to its normal peacetime locations for every 60 brigades/ regiments reported in the information exchange measures. No state is obliged to accept more than 15 visits per calendar year, with the Soviet Union having sought a lower quota on grounds of undue hardship in view of the already taxing CFE verification provisions. A right of refusal does exist when "formations or units may be in their normal peacetime location but be unavailable for evaluation," but this right can only be invoked five times per year. The evaluation measure applies only to active units, with a solution to be found in the continuing negotiations regarding non-active units activated for routine training purposes.

The ninth section, Communications, establishes a direct communications link between capitals for transmission of messages related to agreed measures. Participating states "may agree among themselves to use the network for other purposes", e.g. CFE treaty implementation or even non-military aspects of security and cooperation in Europe. As the Head of the Italian

CSBM Delegation, Ambassador Massimiliano Bandini, observed, the communications link, in addition to its practical advantages over normal diplomatic channels, "would also be of considerable political value, since, once operational, it would enable the governments of the participating states to be in constant contact. Especially in times of crisis, this could prove vital. Moreover, the initiative would also have a positive impact on European public opinion as a concrete step toward the construction of the Europe of the future. "(4)

The tenth and final section, Annual Implementation Assessment Meeting, provides that a meeting will be held each year within the Conflict Prevention Centre to discuss implementation. The Charter of Paris, which actually created the Vienna-based CPC, tasked it, "to assist the Council (of CSCE Foreign Ministers) in reducing the risk of conflict." During its initial stages, the CPC will support CSBM implementation, but it "might assume other functions" in future - such as facilitating the peaceful resolution of any CSCE-related dispute through means such as conciliation and arbitration. The Valletta CSCE Meeting of Experts, held from 15 January to 8 February, examined ways of complementing existing methods for achieving peaceful resolution of disputes. The report of the Valletta meeting did not refer to the CPC, but does permit any party to a dispute "of importance to peace, security, or stability among the participating states" to bring the dispute before the Committee of Senior Officials.

Further negotiations

In the introduction to the Vienna CSBM Document, paragraph seven states that, "proposals which have been submitted remain subject to further negotiations." No doubt the continuing negotiations will consider the NATO measures that did not find their way into the 1990 Vienna Document - notification of reserve call-ups and of base-to-base transfers, certain improvements to observation and inspection, an information exchange three years in advance on infrastructure upgrading, and improved access for accredited personnel dealing with military matters (the last measure having met with the curious Soviet objection, despite the Madrid Mandate, that it would not affect North American territory).

Regarding other delegations, the neutral and non-aligned countries may endeavour to widen the Stockholm measures regarding amphibious landings and parachute assaults, whereas the Soviet Union can be expected to argue for constraints on military activity and expand notifiable activities to include independent air and naval activity. The interesting Hungarian-Czechoslovak-Polish proposal of 18 May 1990 for bilateral measures tailored to specific regional needs may also be reviewed, because as US Secretary of State James Baker suggested on 7 February 1990: "We should consider new proposals to promote greater military transparency between neighbouring states, especially along border areas." Whether or not such "complementary" or "neighbourhood" CSBMs are adopted in the negotiations at 34 or in a smaller setting, they could further help stabilize regions of latent tension in Central and Eastern Europe.

In the first public commentary on the Vienna CSBM Document, a plenary resolution unanimously adopted in London on 29 November 1990 by the North Atlantic Assembly (5) raised possible future directions for the CSCE participating states to consider:

First, it is perhaps time to go beyond notification, observation, and inspection by negotiating constraints on the permissible level and other characteristics of military activities in Europe. The 12 October 1990 German-Soviet Treaty governing Soviet troop withdrawals already provides that no Soviet military activities in the territory of the former GDR will exceed 13,000 troops - a limit intended also to apply to the activity of foreign NATO forces in the former GDR territory under the 12 September 1990 Treaty on the Final Settlement with respect to Germany. (6) Why not apply this constraint to all 34 states, so as to help prevent potentially threatening military behaviour from the outset?

Second, perhaps the agreed right to question unusual military activities could be applied to those conducted inside normal peacetime locations, such as aircraft stand-downs or command post and command field exercises, although verification difficulties would certainly arise.

Third, information exchanges could be extended to include information on the production of weapons and equipment. This would not only allow enhanced transparency of trends in defence capabilities but shed light on international arms transfers (the CFE treaty does not cover production or weapons for export). The problem of the exclusion of North America and the Soviet Union east of the Urals could be dealt with outside the CSCE context. Information could also cover border police and organizations designed and structured to perform security functions in peacetime.

Fourth, thresholds for notification should be reviewed, reflecting the trend toward smaller-scale exercises which leads to the absence of any notifiable activity from an increasing number of states with its consequent impact on military transparency. NATO's original 6,000 troop threshold advanced in 1984 in Stockholm may seem more appropriate in these circumstances than the Stockholm and Vienna threshold of 13,000 troops.

Fifth, in view of the greatly increased warning time available to the Alliance, could the exception to advance notification in the case of an alert be abandoned or narrowed further by annual quotas of alerts or geographic restrictions?

Sixth, the key to stable parliamentary democracies in Europe are the parliamentarians themselves. A recurrent theme in discussions with legislators from the new democracies of Europe concerns problems of parliamentary oversight. Why not invite parliamentary representation in CSBM activity, such as the military doctrine seminar, and allow accredited personnel as well as parliamentarians from other participating states to attend parliamentary debates such as on defence budgets? The results of the military doctrine seminar should also be made publically available, and its scope broadened to cover questions such as defence conversion.

There also exists the conceptual challenge of reconciling a potential overlap between CFE and CSBMs and preparing for the united negotiation by 1992. This will include considering what elements of a follow-on CFE 1A regime might be dealt with just as easily as CSBMs. The NATO proposal of 21 September 1989 for CFE stabilization measures comprised:

  1. notification of the call-up of reservists at or exceeding 40,000 troops;

  2. notification of the movement of ground, treaty-limited equipment from one location to another within the zone above agreed thresholds;

  3. a limit on equipment in active units and monitored storage of equipment beyond that limit;

  4. a limit on armoured vehicle assault bridges in active units and monitored storage of equipment beyond that limit; and

  5. a constraint on the size of military activities involving more than 40,000 troops or 800 main battle tanks.

However, the resulting CFE treaty only contains the third and fourth of these measures, leaving out the important issues of reserve call-ups, movement of ground equipment, and constraints - which many observers regard as serious flaws in the CFE regime, noting that equilibrium in numbers of weapons and equipment cannot itself prove stabilizing without attention to the operational aspects of military forces.

All this suggests that the CSBM dish is not full after the Vienna Document, but that careful attention will have to be devoted to the question of what measures genuinely promote confidence and security as opposed to simply keeping up the momentum of the negotiations for the sake of momentum itself. The fact that NATO has proved able to advance the ideas that have consistently come to form the basis for consensus, constitutes a great credit to the sixteen nations, as well as a challenge for the future.

The author wishes to thank John B or aw ski, director of the North Atlantic Assembly' s Political Committee, for his assistance in the preparation of this article.

(1) See "The CSBM negotiations in Vienna: a commitment to build a new European military security system". Ambassador Massimiliano Bandini, NATO Review, No.5, October 1990, p. 12. As ol end December 1990, 44 inspections had been conducted.
(2) For text, see NATO Review, No.6, December 1990,p.26.
(3) On 14 January 1991 the North Atlantic Council strongly condemned the use of violence by the Soviet Armed Forces and actions to undermine the democratically elected authorities of Lithuania, and appealed to the Soviet authorities to implement fully the Soviet Union's CSCE commitments.
(4) See note I,p.l5
(5) The North Atlantic Assembly is an independent parliamentary body with no formal links to NATO. The NAA provides a forum where elected representatives from the 16 NATO member countries can discuss and act upon the issues they consider of vital importance to the Atlantic Alliance.
(6) According to the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, James Dobbins, on 4 October 1990, USIS Wireless File 193, 5 October 1990, p.15.